Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bedeviled

A nice warm sunny day and a high noon kick off for Wake and Duke. Even though Wake goes into the game with six-game winning streak over the Devils, there's always anticipation that its the one win Duke has a chance to seize. It's hard to keep count of how many times the two have broken each other's losing streaks. It's like Wake's on a 312-game losing streak and breaks against Duke who in turn goes on a 315-game snide only to snap it against Wake and set everything in motion the other way. Fortunately for Wake, the pattern hasn't yet appeared in the 21st century.

My Dad shows up with my nephew and no one has sun screen or wide-breamed hats as the sun reflected brightly off the Groves Stadium concrete. The new prescription turf looks good and the Duke players slip around on it during the warm ups. Maybe it portends something good. There's a cool flyover by the North Carolina Air National Guard and the game gets underway. Two frosh QBs make their first collegiate starts, Riley Skinner for Wake ( I think I finally have his name etched on my brain) and Thad Lewis for the Devils. In the first half one of them looks like an early candidate for rookie of the year. It's not Skinner.

The Dukies run all over the new green turf during the first half. Wake gets nothing going. Since Jim Grobe hit the sidelines, Wake running backs have plowed through the Duke D like a concert crowd storming into the arena for a rock show during the 1970s festival seating days, but not this show. The Deacs don't come close to sniffing triple digits in the ground game. The lethally-toed Sam Swank can't even drill a field goal for the black and gold. Duke goes into the lockerroom with a 10-0 lead that could easily be 28-0. Two redzone fumbles, one into the endzone, and a dropped pass two miles behind the Deacon secondary keeps the Devils from rolling up the recycled Goodyear field and taking it back to Durham because they owned it.

The second half doesn't look any better for the home team. Wake manages a TD drive, but little else. Duke leads 13-7 and its getting late. Skinner rallies the Deacs late and Micah Andrews drives into the endzone to cap a 63-yard drive. Swank's extra point gives Wake a one-point lead. Across the field from my seat a see a small but enthusiastic Duke crowd crushed. I see one guy sitting by himself putting his head into an arm vise. The Devils still have some fans holding out for a win.

The defense just has to do its job and Wake can salt away a hard-earned victory. The next thing I know, Lewis starts gunning the ball down the field. Two pass interference penalaties and long pass puts Duke in the redzone. Forget the field goal, the Devils are playing like they'll stick in the endzone and keep running back home. The Deacs make a touchdown-saving tackle inside the ten. Duke runs a play to position the ball and loses a couple of yards, but all they need is a 27-yard field goal to make Boise a fantasy trip for the Wake faithful. Kicker Joe Surgan lines up for the kick. Wake gets the rush on him and Chip Vaughn flies in and blocks the kick. No time left and the Wake players rush the field in pure joy. Several Devils slump to the turf, but hey, at least one team celebrates unrestrained after beating Duke this year.

Listening to postgame with a slightly burning face, I hear Grobe heap nothing but praise on Riley Skinner, who passed for 235 yards. Lewis threw for 315, but he didn't direct the winning drive. Skinner wins his first rookie of the week honor. Time to go on the road for two weeks.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Paved with oranges

My mom and dad were kind enough to get me a season ticket for the gridiron Deacs again this season and I gladly accepted. Even though Wake was coming off three consecutive losing seasons, head coach Jim Grobe sounded opitimistic in preseason. He returns an experienced team, and these days, six wins gets you in a bowl game. Maybe the Deacs will get a chance to play on the blue turf of Boise or, if they can squeeze out seven or eight wins, a short postseason trip to Charlotte may be in the works. It didn't really matter, catching Wake football was good way to get together with the parents.

It all starts on a warm Labor Day weekend. The Syracuse Orangemen roll into to town courtesy of East Carolina. The Orange landed on Wake's schedule because ECU wanted out of its contract with WFU. To get out, Pirates AD Terry Holland worked out a deal where he convinced Syracuse to give up its game with his team and replace it with Wake. I'm not sure who ECU ended up playing. Anyway, Syracuse represents a good target to start aiming for a winning season. They finished 1-10 in '05 and had numerous offensive woes. Wake even comes into the game as something like a 102-point favorite. Actually, I think the spread was Wake -22, a rarity for sure.

Much of the Deacs' hopes rest with QB Ben Mauk, back from a season lost to injury and running back Micah Andrews, a solid back up to '05 ACC player of the year Chris Barclay. Andrews also has an impressive pedigree. He's the son of William Andrews a former RB with the Atlanta Falcons, who starred at Auburn during his college years. The defense looks sound too, anchored by ferocious-hitting middle linebacker Jon Abbate and canny fifth-year senior safeties Josh Gattis and Patrick Ghee. Backing it all up is sure-footed kicker Sam Swank who will also handle punting duties. Maybe the Deacs would send the Orange back north all whupped up.

Things start nicely enough. Wake drives 96 yards for a score on its second drive, but Syracuse matches it with a long drive of its own. The next thing you know, the game turns into a slog. With the game tied at 10 at the half, it looks like a good weekend to bet on the Orangemen to cover.

After an exchange of turnovers to start the third quarter, Mauk finally has the Deacs driving. Approaching the redzone, Mauk hands off to back up tailback D'Angelo Bryant who lays the ball on the brand new Groves Stadium prescription turf. An alert Mauk falls on the fumble, but a big pile lands on top of him. It was no surprise the hit shook up Big Ben, but it soon becomes apparent he's hurting badly. A stretecher comes onto the field and out goes Mauk. I had no idea who backed him up. Number 11 came onto the field. I thought I heard the public address announcer calls him something Skinner. For his first college play ever, he lines up in the shotgun on third down. Wide receiver Willie Idlete comes in motion from Skinner's right. The young QB calls for the snap just as Idlete approaches center Steve Justice's posterior. A fleet-footed receiver, he's not going to avoid the pigskin striking his shin. Idlete covers the fumble and gives kicker Sam Swank a chance to put the Deacs in the lead with a field goal. Swank delivers. The defense gave up nothing the rest of the way and the freshman QB, I can't say I remembered his name at the time, leads the Deacs on a touchdown drive to salt away a 20-10 win.

Riding away from the stadium with my parents during a sudden shower, we listen to the postgame show on the radio. My dad asks me if I remember the name of the freshman quarterback. I say I think it might be Ricky Skinner or is his name Riley Swanson, wait Riley Swanson is a cornerback. Anyway, Grobe had already received word that Ben Mauk had broken his upper arm. He was done for the season. Hearing the news, I almost forget a promo shown on the jumbotron during the first half. The ACC champion has a new home. The road to glory is paved in oranges, (not Orangemen). The winner of the ACC title wins an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl. Well, maybe the Deacs will stomp Duke next week.

Let's try this

Around Thanksgiving, I thought I found my blogging groove again. False start. Too many other things have been going on. As I mentioned at the time, Wake Forest football snagged a great deal of my attention. I've decided to make another start. This time I'll see if Wake Forest football can work me back into the blogosphere. I went five of six of the Deacs' home games and attended the Carolina game in Chapel Hill. I watched every time they were on the tube. I'm going back and re-create the season and try to capture my impressions at the time. Let's see if this works.